Remember the Seyi Omooba controversy? Back in March 2019, she was cast as the lead in the Curve Theatre’s production of The Color Purple. Soon after this was announced, a Facebook post from 2014 emerged in which Omooba said that she believed homosexuality was a sin. Many people complained that someone with such beliefs would be cast to play an LGBT character such as Celie (who, after suffering abuse, falls in love with another woman).
Such was the furore that the theatre recast the role, and Ms Omooba was dropped by her agents. She took them both to an Employment Tribunal, claiming discrimination based on her religious beliefs. I wrote about the case at the time, asking whether homophobic views should receive any kind of special protection when veiled by religious belief. I also wondered why a five-year-old Facebook post had been ‘dredged up’ and whether Ms Omooba had ‘kept her views to herself’ or been sufficiently evangelical that it was appropriate that they affected her employment prospects.
Whenever there is a free speech controversy, many people like to parrot a common refrain: “Free speech does not mean freedom from consequences.”
This is true, but it’s also incomplete. Free speech does (or should) mean freedom from some consequences. For example, it can never be appropriate to murder cartoonists because of offensive drawings, or to issue a fatwa in response to a magical-realist novel that insults a particular religion.
Most free speech controversies that splatter themselves over the tabloids and Twitter timelines are really an argument about what consequences are appropriate for the perceived transgression.
Most people agree that the most extreme punishments are rarely, if ever, appropriate. No one should ever be subject to violence because of what they say or believe, and criminalising someone for what they have said should be limited to those who actively incite violence. Continue reading “Religious Freedom, Free Speech and Employment Rights: the case of Seyi Omooba”
‘Actress who lost her dream role after quoting Bible on Facebook sues for religious discrimination’ reports the Daily Mail.
Here we have one of those fascinating and incredibly tricky cases where different human rights seem to be in conflict. Whatever the outcome of the case, it will make some people very angry. Continue reading “Notes on Seyi Omooba's Religious Discrimination Case”
Oh dear. The Saachti Gallery has covered up some paintings after complaints that they are blasphemous.
The gallery, founded by the advertising magnate Charles Saatchi, rejected calls from some visitors to remove the paintings, arguing it was up to visitors to come to their own conclusions on the meaning of the art. However, in response to the complaints, SKU suggested as a compromise the works should remain on the gallery wall but be covered up with sheets.
“It seemed a respectful solution that enables a debate about freedom of expression versus the perceived right not to be offended,” he said in a statement to the Sunday Times.
I’ll tell you what’s offensive — capitulating to censorious complaints, and then trying to dampen the impact of your decision by saying that it ‘enables a debate about freedom of expression.’ Continue reading “Censorship and Capitulation at the Saachti Gallery”
At a museum in Haifa, Israel, a sculpture called McJesus has been removed from display.
The name of piece by Jani Leinonen tells you exactly what it looks like and also gives heavy clues as to why it is controversial: it is the crucifixion of Ronald McDonald.
There have been angry protests against the sculpture by Israeli Christians who consider it offensive and blasphemous. There were threats of fire bombing.
The sculpture brings to mind another crucifixion mash-up, Immersion (Piss Christ) by Andreas Serrano (1987). I also think of The Holy Virgin Mary by Chris Ofili (1996), a picture painted using elephant dung and which features pornographic imagery. Rudi Giuliani, then mayor of New York, called it ‘sick’ when the painting was exhibited there in 1999.
Continue reading “Hey, Haifa! 1999 called and it wants it's controversy back!”
Kwame Anthony Appiah’s series of Reith Lectures is called ‘Mistaken Identities‘. I really enjoyed listening to the first lecture on ‘Creed‘ and am looking forward to the rest: ‘Country’, ‘Colour’ and ‘Culture’.
In the first lecture, Appiah walked us through the idea that religious practices and doctrines are far more fluid and open to interpretation and change, than the fundamentalists would have us believe. This is a good thing in my view, as it offers hope that illiberal ideas spread under the guise of religion can eventually be abandoned.
But I found myself wondering whether the Internet and digital technology may actually stifle that process. Continue reading “Religious Doctrine and the Internet”